In emergency medicine, a moment of hesitation can make a big difference. Eight minutes of negligent behavior? That can result in a $33.8 million lawsuit.
Marla Dixon gave birth to her son in 2013. Dixon did not have a high-risk pregnancy, but watched as her doctor made a series of negligent actions and decisions throughout her labor.
Specifically, the doctor ordered drugs for stronger contractions and continued to leave the room throughout the labor. One of the phone calls, which lasted for eight minutes, was a call from the doctor’s stockbroker. The doctor also refused to perform a C-section procedure on Dixon, then later altered Dixon’s medical record to say that she had refused the C-section. Thankfully, a nurse involved in delivering the baby testified that Dixon had repeatedly asked for a C-section.
When the baby was born, he needed emergency revival and oxygen. The lack of oxygen to the boy’s brain has left him with permanent brain damage.
Dixon delivered her son at the North Shore Medical Center in Miami. The doctor who delivered her child, Ata Atogho, was employed by a federally funded clinic at the time. That means the U.S. government is footing the bill for the $33.8 million medical malpractice lawsuit, an amount that will cover the expenses needed to care for Dixon’s son for the rest of his life.
During the trial, expert witnesses showed that Atogho failed to act when he saw that the fetus was in distress, including ignoring a “category 3” fetal heart rate. In fact, the distress was partially caused by the drug that Atogho gave Dixon to administer stronger contractions. Atogho had also tried and failed (three times) to deliver the baby with a vacuum device. Dixon ended up having to push for 90 minutes.
The court determined that if Atogho had decided to perform an emergency C-section – even just 30 minutes before the baby was delivered – the boy would not have been permanently and severely damaged.
The story of Dixon’s delivery is horrifying, but what she discovered during her lawsuit is even scarier. As Dixon was taking the doctor to court, she learned that he had caused permanent damage to two other children that same year. In September 2013, Atogho allegedly rushed to deliver a baby with a vacuum device and caused permanent nerve damage. The mother settled for $92,200 out of court.
The other case was very similar to Dixon’s. The mother is accusing Atogho of ignoring signs of fetal distress and waiting too long to perform a C-section. That plaintiff’s daughter also has permanent brain damage.
It gets even worse, though: even after three very serious lawsuits were brought up against Atogho in a short period of time, he is still a practicing obstetrician. He has not faced disciplinary action for Dixon’s delivery and still has his medical license. Moreover, since the federal government footed the bill for the lawsuit against him, he also isn’t financially liable for Dixon’s son’s brain damage.
Atogho no longer works at the same clinic where he delivered Dixon’s child, but has found employment at a private practice in Broward County. When the Miami Herald reported the story in late April, they said that they called Atogho multiple times but did not receive an answer… because he was on vacation.
It Is Up to You to Stay Informed – and Fight Back If You Experience Malpractice
The Florida Department of Health does not investigate malpractice claims unless a patient specifically comes forward with a complaint. If you have experienced serious damage due to a doctor’s negligence, coming forward with a medical malpractice suit could alert other potential patients of the doctor’s past.
As you file a claim, you may discover that you are not alone. A big lawsuit could be the push the Department of Health needs to hold negligent doctors accountable for their mistakes.
Unfortunately, this is not always the case. Despite the patients who came forward about Atogho’s negligence throughout 2013, the Department of Health has not gone public with their findings about Atogho – if an investigation was even conducted in the first place.
Don’t think this means the lawsuits had no impact, though. Atogho’s medical license may not reveal any negligence from 2013, but Dixon’s $33.8 million lawsuit put his name out there. Expectant mothers in the Miami area are not more likely to know about his negligent past, and make a more well-informed decision when they are ready to deliver.
If you want to learn more about filing a medical malpractice lawsuit, reach out to a South Florida personal injury lawyer immediately.
About the Author:
Lawlor, White & Murphey in 1998. Since 1995, Mr. Lawlor’s trial advocacy and litigation skills, as well as his wide-ranging legal expertise, have provided plaintiffs and their families with a distinct advantage when seeking financial compensation and justice for injuries caused by the negligence of others. Mr. Lawlor is an EAGLE member of the Florida Bar Association and an active member of the American Association for Justice, the Broward County Justice Association, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), and several professional associations.